Family Legends

Every family has a story.  Even if there isn’t much known about the actual family history, the family story is being written, day by day.

I married a man with an  intriguing family history that includes a German scientist dad (who actually met Hitler!) who married his secretary and eventually escaped East Germany with her and their three little kids (and one on the way–Tom), fleeing to Canada and eventually landing in the United States.  The German scientist had another family before the one Tom was born to, and he didn’t know about his half siblings in Germany until he was a young teenager.  There are so many Bickel Family legends spanning many years, including such things as the “special friendship” my father-in-law had with (the actor) Michael Douglas’s first wife’s mother…try following that one after a glass of wine…and the time he was hired to find water on the land on Figueroa Mountain that is now known as Neverland Ranch.  Truly fascinating stuff.

My own family of origin has stories too though I’m not entirely sure if some of our family legends are actually true.  Since reconnecting with some of my paternal cousins, I’ve learned that they too grew up believing that the Friar family has Native American blood.  I grew up hearing that my dad’s family had blackfoot indian blood; one of my cousins recently shared that our great-great grandma (who she believed was named Minny) was Cherokee.  However, my brother Jerry did some genealogy study using Ancestry.com and found no evidence of Native American ties.  Is it possible that our direct Native American ancestors belonged to unrecognized tribes?  I suppose.  But to be perfectly honest, I’d be more interested in learning how this belief originated in the family and how it was told and retold through the generations.

One of the most mysterious and troubling family legends was something I overheard my parents arguing about many times during my childhood:  that my dad fathered a child when he was stationed in Germany (before he met my mom).  He told my mom that he was involved with a woman named Annelisa, who became pregnant by my dad.  That baby was a boy who was adopted by an Air Force officer (or some higher rank) and his wife; they named him David.  This subject would come up during arguments that I think started when my parents were drinking and my dad would start to accuse my mom of being unfaithful.  I wondered, so many times, if I actually had an older brother somewhere and if he would ever try to find my dad.  Was I not actually my pop’s firstborn?

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This was my mom’s most favorite picture of my dad, here with me.

Another family legend involved the song Oh Lonesome Me.  My dad claimed to have written and then sold this song for $50, with no rights to claim that he actually wrote it. Ghostwritten by him, he said.  Is this true?  I have no idea.

I’ve allowed myself to travel back in my memories lately; this wasn’t always safe for me and as a result, I pushed many memories so far back in the recesses of my mind that it can be a bit hard to retrieve now.  But I’ve grown up a bit, grown strong, thanks to the stable family life that Tom and I built together.  I wonder, when we are gone, what family legends our kids will remember and share?

In other news…we are in the process of digging up our parched and gopher-damaged front yard to prepare for a new sod planting.  When I say “we” you should know that I actually mean Tom.  I have been banished from any yard work after my six weeks of hell due to poison oak reaction.  So while Tom is sweating and shoveling, I occasionally go outside to wave at neighbors and to comment on his progress, telling him he’s doing a good job.  This project is taking a long time, mostly because Tom is doing it alone and maybe because every time I casually mention how long it is taking, Tom slows down even more.  I don’t know if the slowdown is purposeful, but  I do know that Tom DOES NOT like to be bossed around, and that includes casual mentions and letters from the Homeowner’s Association about the state of the yard (Tom’s comments while reading that letter, well, I won’t repeat here).

Progress, as recorded today:

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Tom’s ability to fix stuff is legendary in our family so I know, even though this project is taking much longer than I’d like, that he will make something beautiful happen here.

Work is done for the day around here; we are getting ready to grab our fold-up chairs and head to Ryon Park to listen to a band we like.  The Lompoc Valley SpringFest closes today, and Holger’s Heroes will be playing some classic rock favorites.  The perfect way to close out our weekend as well.

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Family Ties

It’s been too long since I sat down to write, even though I sit at my desk at home every day for at least an hour or two.  I busy myself with studying for my latest Master’s class (Business Ethics) or with my  latest Bible study (Beth  Moore’s Entrusted) and, of course, with other important pursuits (Facebook and Twitter).  And I always make time for a rousing game of Spider Solitaire.  Lately thoughts have been swirling and marinating and since I’m not really a talker (though some people close to me might disagree!), those thoughts need to be expressed somehow…thus, I know it is time to write. On Twitter the other day this is what Anne Lamott had to say, in response to someone’s question about how to get started as a writer:

“Decide to.  Sit down @ desk.  Keep butt in chair.  Share a memory or description.  Write an unbelievable shitty first draft.”

Thank you, Anne.  I shall follow your advice.

This guy hangs from my desk lamp as a reminder to write.  He’s been giving me the stink eye lately.  Am I right?

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So today, I write.

March was very busy.  We bought a new car and then promptly racked up some miles by heading to Twentynine Palms to attend our oldest granddaughter’s 7th birthday party. We got to see, firsthand, the life our son is building for himself following a divorce he did not want.  He’s established a comfortable home where his kids spend time with him daily, and he’s established a very good co-parenting relationship with their mom.  There is no better feeling for a parent, than knowing that your kids are doing okay.  Here is a picture of the lovely birthday girl with Chuck E. Cheese and her proud daddy looking on:

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Here I am, with Amelia and Tom, in the backseat of said new car.  We were on our way to the birthday party.  Never mind that my ass was wedged snugly between two booster seats…spending time with these two makes my heart very happy:

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We returned home on a Sunday, worked two days and then boarded a plane to Eugene, OR the following Wednesday.  I last visited Jessica and family in December when the crazy ice storm hit Eugene.  I’d never seen anything like it, but I digress…I no sooner returned home from that trip before Jess and I started planning the next trip.  I traveled alone in December as Tom had too many work demands.  Thanks to a bounty of United air miles, we were able to book round trip air tickets for two, only paying tax, so the March trip was a go.  Seeing Tom with our grandsons kind of made me fall in love with him again.

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While there, Braydon and I planted a little flower garden for their patio.  Jess sent a picture the other day to show me that the flowers were still alive and thriving.  Even though they’ve been in Oregon for over a year now, I know my girl misses me.  We have our next trip planned for September–it will be a week long road trip.

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We returned from Oregon late on a Sunday; we’d both taken Monday off to recuperate but decided to do a bit of yard work, as recent rains and subsequent sun had brought weeds out of hiding.  The weather was nice so I put on a tank top and jeans and went to it.  At one point Tom pointed out what he thought to be poison oak growing by our backyard gate.  Nah, I thought.

I am very allergic to poison oak.  VERY.

You can guess what happened.  It’s been four weeks…one steroid shot…a course of Prednisone…lots of Caladryl…several tubes of Hydrocortisone…and I’m STILL dealing with a few remnant patches of poison oak breakout.  I’ll spare you the pictures but yes I took some…just in case I forget how bad it actually got!

Yard work will be done by someone other than me from now on.

I’d promised our local daughter Amy and her family that we’d have them for Sunday dinner so I could make homemade pizza (completely homemade crust and sauce and with all our favorite gourmet toppings) but with my poison oak-covered hands, that just didn’t seem like a good idea.  We had some nice weather and Tom took the opportunity to barbecue baby back ribs which in my opinion was a very good alternative.  Seeing little miss Aislee put a big smile on my face:

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This girl is something else.  She is happy, loving, and as sweet as can be.  We think she might be almost ready for a sleepover with Nana and Papa.  I can’t wait.

I’m hoping that tomorrow we can finally get around to that pizza dinner.  Amy and I have plans today to go to the movies to see Beauty and the Beast, just the two of us. Time with my own baby daughter is another thing that makes me smile.

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I think that catches us up on family life around here.  But something interesting happened recently that has me thinking more deeply about family ties.  I received a Facebook friend request from someone I didn’t know; we didn’t share any mutual friends either, so I was hesitant to accept the request.  As I looked at her name, an unusual name, I wondered if she was a cousin on my dad’s side of the family.  Sure enough, that was the case–she’s the daughter of my dad’s sister.  In accepting her friend request, I’ve now connected with both of her sisters, and with other cousins (daughters of my dad’s other sister).  Many memories, long buried, are surfacing as we share pictures and a bit of our family history.  I am excited to see where these relationships lead.  But I’m also a bit nervous.  I’m learning things that are troubling, such as the fact that all three of my dad’s sisters have Alzheimer’s or other dementia diagnoses.  My grandma, their mother, died of Alzheimer’s.  My dad died at age 60 of lung cancer.  I can’t help but wonder if he would have developed dementia if he’d lived long enough.  One of his brothers is in a nursing home here in California, and I’m not sure if he’s dealing with dementia (but plan to find out).  My dad’s youngest brother lives here locally and I occasionally run into him in town.  He seems fine…when I last saw him he was astonished by how much I favor my mom.  I think it was very odd for him to see me as a middle-aged woman!

These new family ties are stirring up memories for sure.  I’ve long had the bare bones of a memoir in progress but I seem to get blocked when it comes to writing about my childhood; it feels like I don’t want to go there.  Perhaps these new relationships will fill in gaps and serve to override some fear I have about revisiting some of the really tough memories that shaped who I am today.

Cousins, if you are reading this, I am SO GLAD to get to know you again!

So I’m off now to shower and get ready for this beautiful Saturday.  Have a blessed day!

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Stormy Sunday Musings

Living where we do, basically on the Central Coast of California, we just don’t get much in the way of exciting weather and because we live pretty  much  on the most sticking-out-in-the-Pacific-ocean part of California, what actually happens, weather-wise, is usually different than what is forecast on the news.

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Tom monitors the weather using a couple of different weather radar apps on his phone and honestly, he’s better at predicting what’s coming than KSBY news (their app is his favorite).  Perhaps this is because he focuses most heavily on our particular area of the Central Coast, though he also monitors the weather is several other places where we have loved ones, on the Monterey Peninsula, in Twentynine Palms, and  of course, Eugene, Oregon; he keeps them informed of their local weather, whether they want to know or not.

His fascination with weather is a harmless hobby (obsession?) and I always check with him when deciding what to wear to work but what I do not enjoy is when he interrupts what I’m doing to make me watch the latest band of yellow with pockets of red moving into our area via weather radar. The other thing he enjoys is videos that have gone viral and he insists on trying to share these with me even though I tell him that animals doing weird stuff or people making asses of themselves just doesn’t do it for me.  I mean come on, I don’t make him look at cute outfits on Pinterest or share obnoxious and/or thought-provoking political tweets with him, though maybe if I did he’d get it.  I also don’t make him work on puzzles with me because after almost four decades together I am totally okay with us having different interests.

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This puzzle was my attempt to stay up past 10 PM last night.  It didn’t work because it was a really fun, fast-moving one and I was done by 8:15.  We then watched Friday night’s DVR’d Tonight Show, enjoyed a glass of Apothic Inferno and it was over for me.

On a serious and sad note, I have to share that yesterday our youngest daughter’s elderly Boston Terrier had to be put down. Duji was Amy’s faithful companion for nine years, preceding her husband though he won Duji’s devotion as well. He was a wonderful little guy, ever patient with children and easily adjusting to other animals.  I like to think that our two dogs in heaven, Shelby (below) and Bella (who just left us on 1/2/17), greeted him when he arrived.  Our hearts broke a little more yesterday, losing this precious family member.

So the rain is coming down and the wind is blowing.  Tri-tip chili is simmering in the crock pot and homemade cornbread baked in a cast iron skillet is on the menu to go with it. We’ve got Sunday Morning and Saturday Night Live in the DVR queue and I’ve got a closet full of puzzles to choose from.  It’s a peaceful, stormy Sunday around here.

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Tom and Alexa

For Christmas I got my husband a girlfriend.

And if you believe that then hell has in fact frozen over.

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What I did get him was his own personal assistant, the Amazon Echo.  I got a great Black Friday deal on it and just for the music listening feature alone I figured it was worth it when you consider how much you’d spend on a Bose home stereo.  I also figured he could ask it weather questions instead of watching Extreme Weather on the Weather Channel all weekend.  I also figured I could use it while cooking to convert millilitres to ounces and such.  Or when we are watching TV and want to know how old someone is (do other old people do this?  We do this ALL THE TIME) we could just ask Alexa.  Kind of like a present for both of us.  I’m smart like that.

Anyway, a couple of days before Christmas we heard on the news that people are freaking out about Alexa listening all the time and recording conversations that are stored in the cloud (even though, HELLO, do you have Siri on your phone?  Same thing, people).  There was also a news story about an Arkansas murder case where a prosecutor is trying to get Amazon to release Echo recordings from the home where a dead man was found.  I was really starting to feel like my gift-giving thunder was being stolen by the media!

He opened his gift on Christmas Eve and I think he was pleased.  I kind of thought he’d set it up right away, especially since our tech-y son-in-law (who has his own Echo) was over for Christmas festivities. Didn’t happen, but son-in-law assured Tom that Alexa practically sets herself up.

Late on Christmas day he decided to tackle it, and like any other assembly project, he just dove right in there with minimal instruction reading.  Alexa got an earful while he tried to figure her out and I tried to convince him to cease and desist and read the friggin’ email Amazon sent me with very clear and simple set up steps.

Sigh.  We’ve been married 38 years.  This is nothing new.

Anyway.  After a bit of sniping and maybe even a bit of name-calling, Alexa was up and running but Tom was having a problem getting her to respond.  And this is why: you need to say the prompt word (Alexa) and then make your request.  For some reason, my husband wants to talk to Alexa like she’s his girlfriend: “Um hey, how are you doing, Alexa!  I’m wondering about the weather…”

Crickets.

Even though I’ve made huge fun of him for this he still tries to smooth talk Alexa and his reason is this:  he wants her to become accustomed to the way he requests things. Over time, he believes, she will get him.  Tom, honey?  ALEXA IS NOT A PERSON!

I guess it’s possible that I’m just a little bit jealous of the sweet way he talks to her. I also kind of feel sorry for him when she just shines him on because he didn’t ask right. And since I know he’s a very smart person, I’m starting to think he’s doing this just to entertain me.

I do know how to activate Alexa (I’ve had plenty of practice with Siri) and just to be safe, this is what I told her:  Alexa…just so you know, Tom only has one girlfriend and GIRLFRIEND, it is not you.  Now play  some mellow rock.

And she did.

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